A North Carolina police chief has been placed on unpaid leave and probation for telling officers about a “clinic” that would issue them a Covid-19 vaccination card without actually receiving the shot, local officials said.
T.J. Smith — the police chief of Oakboro Town, North Carolina — violated policies including, fraud, willful acts that endanger the property of others and serving a conflicting interest when he allegedly told officers about the scheme, according to a letter addressed to him from Town Administrator Doug Burgess.
The alleged violations stem from “detrimental personal conduct including notifying law enforcement officers to attend a ‘clinic’ where they would be able to obtain proof of COVID 19 vaccination cards without being vaccinated,” the letter said.
The vaccine fraud accusations come as the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly both in the US and worldwide. Full vaccination as well as boosters provide the best protection against the highly contagious variant that has been alarming health officials amid the holiday season.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, said earlier this week that North Carolina could see as many as 10,000 Covid-19 cases a day at the peak in January.
The one-page letter — signed by Burgess and released Tuesday — says Smith was ordered to go on unpaid leave for two weeks and probation for six months beginning December 21. Smith has the right to appeal, the letter states.
The disciplinary measures came after the town hired Blue Chameleon Investigations to conduct an independent probe into the matter, and the decision was made based on the findings, Burgess told CNN.
Smith, in a statement to the local newspaper, said in part: “To make a long story short, in retrospect, I made a mistake.”
Smith told the Stanly News & Press that a friend called and told him about a mobile vaccination clinic.
“After I got off the phone with that friend, I called two other officers (not in my department) and passed on information about what was described as a ‘self-vaccination’ clinic,” he says in a portion of the statement. “I got one phone call, hung up and made two others. I didn’t sit back and digest the information, ruminate on it, or otherwise give it much thought. I just passed it on.”
CNN has reached out to Smith for comment.